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Massachusetts uninsured want coverage but face key barriers

Affordability, eligibility for subsidies and complicated application process are challenges

Most uninsured individuals in Massachusetts want health coverage, but affordability, eligibility for subsidies and challenges with the application process are key barriers to obtaining a health plan, according to a study released by the Blue Crosse Blue Shield of Massachusetts Foundation and the University of Massachusetts Medical School.

Although the study was limited to Massachusetts, it offered an inside look into the tendencies of uninsured individuals that could have broad implications. UMass researchers interviewed 33 uninsured individuals in the state and found that although most valued health coverage, many could not afford health insurance, even subsidized plans. Penalties for not carrying insurance did not appear to be a major factor for the "vast majority" of individuals, according to the study.

Next to cost, the application process posed another major concern for the respondents. Specifically, they found applying online or by phone "frustrating, tedious and confusing," and preferred in-person assistance with the application process. Suggestions for improving the application process included offering more support and guidance, bilingual in-person assistance available at convenient locations, and making more affordable plan options available.

Researchers added that the respondents varied in age, gender and income level. At 3 percent, Massachusetts boasts the lowest uninsured rate in the country, but a multi-pronged approach is required to further lower that number.

"Because of this diversity, there is likely no single outreach strategy or policy that will lower the uninsurance rate in Massachusetts," the report said. "Many options will be needed, and to be effective they should be designed and implemented while taking into consideration the experiences of the currently uninsured."

At 9 percent, the number of uninsured Americans is at an all-time low, thanks in part to Medicaid expansion and state exchanges that contributed in a 44 percent decline in uninsured individuals between 2013 and 2015.

Last year, the Government Accountability Office reported that subsidized plans help drive down the rate of uninsured Americans. However, nearly half of non-elderly uninsured individuals still qualify for Medicaid or subsidized Affordable Care Act plans.

For more:
- here's the BCBS of Massachusetts Foundation study

Related Articles:
Number of uninsured Americans at all-time low
GAO: Subsidies directly helped lower uninsured rate
Medicaid expansion, state exchanges drive greater drops in uninsured
Many remaining uninsured qualify for Medicaid or coverage subsidies